I thought a lot today about the role of women in Vietnam and their opportunities in higher education.
A disclaimer before I continue: if you read this with entirely western notions and do not consider the context that Vietnam’s culture is different (different does not mean bad), you may understand the role of women in Vietnam and Vietnamese families. Also, this is based on information shared with me by our institutional visits and tour guide so far, so I do not have direct evidence of this observation. Research could help clarify whether the following is, in fact, occuring widely in Vietnam.
Girls and boys are educated in the same schools and have the same opportunities afforded to them throughout their education journey. However, there are limitations to the choice young women make to stay in school. In Vietnam, men and women who do not continue in education beyond high school, tend to get married around 18 years of age. Females growing up in the ethnic minority mountainous regions, can quit school and get married as soon as they complete 9th grade. Their communities and families expect and celebrate these young marriages.
When a woman marries in Vietnam, like so many cultures around the world, she belongs to the husband and his family. The divorce rate is very low, around 10%. This is partially due to the disgrace a divorce and the woman returning to her parents would bring to her family. It also is seen as important for the kids to have both their parents. Therefore, many women can be very unhappy by their married life, but they choose not to leave.
If a woman decides to continue her education (whether college, university, or beyond) marriage is usually put off (until around the age of 27). However, men in Vietnam will not typically marry a woman who is more educated or brings home a larger salary. Therefore, her prospects for a husband becomes limited. Women may have to choose between her education/career choice and her opportunity to marry/have a family. For women who grow up in poorer areas, family needs and expectations could lead young women to choose to leave school and start their own family.
I should note that women in Vietnam choose their husband and are not forced to marry. There are many happy families observed so far in Vietnam. I am sitting on a bench by a beautiful lake, and see many couples (some with children) smiling together, laughing together, holding hands, and just generally appearing content.